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Opium production in Afghanistan may fall in 2010, UN reports

10 February 2010 – The cultivation of opium – raw material for the world's deadliest drug, heroin – in Afghanistan could drop this year, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said today, as bad weather is forecast during the country's current growing season.

Productivity could stay stable or fall, continuing a trend since 2007 which has seen a one-third drop in production, according to a new UNODC study. The report is based on farmers' intentions at the start of the planting season and gives an early picture of the 2010 crop.

It also found a correlation between insurgency and high cultivation, with nearly 80 per cent of villages with very poor security conditions growing poppies but in only 7 per cent of villages untouched by violence.

The UNODC report pointed out that in parts of Afghanistan where the Government is more able to enforce the law, nearly two thirds of farmers said they did not grow opium because it is banned, whereas in the southeast, where authorities' reach is weaker, just under 40 per cent of farmers cited the ban as a reason for not cultivating poppies.

Further, Antonio Maria Costa, UNODC Executive Director, noted that market forces have swayed producers from opium, but cautioned that the prices of wheat and other legal crops is falling faster than the price of opium. “Development assistance is badly needed to help Afghan farmers find income alternatives to opium,” he stressed.

“The message is clear,” Mr. Costa underscored. To curb opium production, “there must be better security, development and governance in Afghanistan.” The process must be Afghan-designed and driven, he emphasized, and the world has a “vested interest” in its success.

In December, UNODC reported that the potential export value of Afghanistan's opium dropped 18 per cent in 2009, but warned that further progress hinges on rooting out corruption in the Asian nation.

The export value of opiates dropped from $3.4 billion in 2008, or one-third of Afghanistan's gross domestic product (GDP), to $2.8 billion in 2009, equivalent to one quarter of GDP, according to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2009.

That study attributed the decline to lower opium cultivation, lower production, lower prices and relatively higher GDP.

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